NASA blows up BEAM balloon room

Beam blowing up
Public Domain NASA

We covered the launch of the Bigelow BEAM bouncy castle earlier; it is intriguing because from an architectural point of view, an inflatable building makes so much sense in space. It takes up less room in the rocket, and weights a lot less. The internal air pressure gives it its shape; instead of fighting with air pressure, puts it to use. The skin is in tension, so it can have great strength to weight ratio. It's not just a thin layer, but thick enough to resist space debris and micrometeorites as well as the rest of the ISS; it is strong enough that it might make a neat yurt back on earth.

When they started inflating it on the first try, it didn't open properly; evidently the material was sticking together. According to Bigelow's press release:

The BEAM spacecraft has been in a packed state for a significantly longer time than expected. It has undergone a tremendous squeeze for over 15 months, which is 10 months longer than planned. Therefore, there is a potential for the behavior of the materials that make up the outside of the spacecraft to act differently than expected.

On the second attempt they delivered air in four pulses to let it stabilize between the shots of air. According to one report, there were " the sounds of popping popcorn as BEAM expanded. The sounds, according to officials are "the pops we want to hear as the module continues to expand outwards.”

That's actually a fitting sound effect, because it kind of looks like a Jiffy Pop inflating on the stove. More to follow when the astronauts move in and start bouncing off the walls. Here's another look:

Tags: Space


treehugger slideshows